||Mainstream Press Reports on Russian Police's Complicity in School Siege
Russia's worst enemy may be its own police
Long rampant with bribery and corruption, Russia's police and military are suspected of opening the door to terror attacks in the name of profit.
BY DAVID McHUGH
Associated Press/Sept 11, 2004
MOSCOW - The heavily armed militants behind a deadly school raid in southern Russia passed through a region dotted by checkpoints whose chief purpose is to keep violence from spreading outside the breakaway Chechnya region.
How did they manage? To many people here, suspicion falls on police corruption that could be crippling Russian attempts to fight terrorists.
The school hostage-taking in Beslan and other recent terror attacks illustrate how bribery -- particularly in the police and military -- provides an opening to terrorists. The military often supplies weapons to the same enemy it seeks to vanquish.
For Russians long accustomed to bribing police officers, public housing managers, even nursery school directors, the corruption allegations aren't surprising.
Yet outrage over the school attack, which left more than 330 dead, has been fueled by reports suggesting that bribery played a role. First, the 30 attackers got through a region with many checkpoints without any apparent problem.
Citing police sources, the Russky Kuryer newspaper reported Thursday that two attackers, identified as Nur-Pashi Kulayev and Mairbek Shaybekkhanov, had been arrested in 2002 and 2003 but freed after what the paper said was a ''substantial'' payoff to police.
At an antiterror rally next to the Kremlin on Monday, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov asked furiously why the terrorists had new, high-quality Russian weapons.
Some reports suggest the weapons may have come in part from assaults on police facilities by militants in neighboring Ingushetia in June.
A one-time Ingush policeman, Ali Taziyev, is believed to have led the school seizure, and news reports identify him as the suspected leader of the Ingush assaults. Four Ingush police have been arrested on suspicion of assisting the attackers in those raids.
Even President Vladimir Putin, who has vowed repeatedly to crush the militants, mentioned the topic in an address to the country. ''We have let corruption affect the judicial and law enforcement sphere,'' he said.
Beslan hostages told journalists that the kidnappers taunted them, saying they had bribed their way past checkpoints. A police spokesman rejected those accusations, saying the terrorists used back roads that had fallen out of use and weren't patrolled.
The accusations were an echo of the 1995 raid by Chechen guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev on the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk, where about 2,000 people were taken hostage at a hospital. Basayev said later in an interview that his band of fighters had intended to drive to Moscow, but the bribe money ran out.
Russian soldiers are widely believed to be a source of weapons for Chechen fighters; bribes to pass checkpoints in Chechnya are a near-universal practice; the prices for getting ID papers are well-known.
The school shooting came amid reports of bribery surrounding the apparent suicide bombings of two Russian airliners that crashed within minutes of each other last month, killing all 90 people aboard.
Police reportedly arrested an illegal ticket scalper at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport who helped the Chechen women suspected in the attacks. The man reportedly was a former employee of Sibir airlines, which operated one of the planes.
Ex-policeman 'masterminded Beslan terror'
By Tom Parfitt in Nazran, Ingushetia
London Telegraph/September 9, 2004
A police sergeant from Ingushetia who disappeared six years ago is accused of being among the ringleaders of the Beslan siege. Officials of the republic's interior ministry believe that Ali Taziyev, who worked for Ingushetia's external security division protecting government officials, has turned into a ruthless killer since he was caught up in a kidnapping involving Chechens in 1998.
His family believes that he is dead, but the interior ministry claims that he joined the Chechen rebel movement and has taken part in several operations against Russian forces, under the codename Magas.
Officials now suspect that he was one of four commanders who masterminded the attack on School Number One in Beslan in which more than 330 people died , more than half of them children.
Musa Apiyev, Ingushetia's deputy interior minister, told the Telegraph: "The fighter known as Magas, who is the former police officer Taziyev, is connected to a series of terrorist attacks and there is evidence that he participated in the Beslan incident." Mr Apiyev said that Magas was the "leader of a bandit formation" based in Ingushetia. The tiny republic, flanked by mountains, has suffered in recent years from the spill-over of conflict from neighbouring Chechnya.
Police released a photograph that, they say, shows Taziyev earlier this year with Shamil Basayev, the Chechen warlord accused by Moscow of organising the Beslan attack. The Russian security service, the FSB, has offered a £5.5 million bounty for information leading to the capture of Basayev and another Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov.
In the week since the siege began, investigators have been piecing together the identities of the terrorists. The small town in North Ossetia, the Christian region that abuts Muslim Ingushetia, became the focus of world attention when 32 terrorists stormed the school and took hostage 1,100 pupils, parents and teachers, on September 1. More than 330 people were killed and hundreds more wounded when the siege came to a bloody end two days later.
Recordings of the terrorists' telephone conversations reveal that they repeatedly referred to a man called Magas, although it is unclear whether he was in the building or directing operations from outside.
A search for Taziyev was launched last month after he was accused of taking part in attacks on police stations and government buildings in the republic's capital, Nazran, in June, which killed almost 100 people.
He is also suspected of involvement in an assassination attempt on the Ingush president Murad Zyazikov earlier this year.
Police officials say that the other three commanders who organised the attack were also known by codenames: The Colonel, Abdullah and Fantomas.
Russia's general prosecutor, Vladimir Ustinov, told President Vladimir Putin last week that "The Colonel" led the operation inside the school. He has been tentatively identified as a senior rebel from southern Ingushetia. Fantomas is thought to have been a Russian or Chechen former bodyguard to Basayev. Abdullah is believed to be from Ossetia.
Mr Apiyev said: "There are more and more small units moving around in the forests and mountains in the North Caucasus who were only inside Chechnya in the past." He said many fighters were recruited through extremist Muslim communities known as Jamaats.
It remains unclear why the shy, young policeman joined the anti-Russian fighters. He has not been seen since October 10, 1998, when he and a fellow officer were ambushed while protecting the wife of a presidential adviser in Nazran. They were all piled into a car and driven into Chechnya.
A few months later, the wife was freed. The body of the second policeman was found a year later. Taziyev, however, had disappeared.
His family gave up looking for his body in 2001. "We heard nothing, even when his father died," said his mother, Lida, in an interview. "If he was alive, he would have at least passed a message to us."
Investigators, however, believe that he may have been an accomplice in the kidnapping, drawn by the prospect of ransom money. The headquarters of the Ingush interior ministry is still pockmarked by gunfire from the June raids on Nazran. Dozens of officers were killed in the attacks. Major Madina Khadzieva said that the attacks on the city and the school in Beslan were carried out by the "same bandits with the same style of attack". Magas, she claimed, was among the leaders on both occasions.
"Just a few days before the Beslan siege, we received information that a school in Nazran would be attacked," she said. "That was almost certainly a diversionary tactic by the same group."
Taziyev's family, however, is adamant that he is innocent. His younger brother, Alan, said: "The police used to think that someone else was Magas. Now they have discovered that that person is dead and they are looking for a new scapegoat."